Thole: Unsung brigade in football — offensive linemen

Offensive linemen are frequently overlooked, but they are an integral part of any team’s success.

Former Cretin coach Mal Scanlon used to refer to our offensive linemen as duffel bags because of their girth. They would have looked malnourished standing next to the 6-foot-2, 263-pound average interior line put forth by the 2012 Big Red of second-year coach Beau LaBore.

Looking at the likes of junior tackles Pete Palacek (6-3, 305), Ryan Peltier (6-0, 280) and John Billingsley (6-0, 255), guards Danny Buege (6-2, 270) and Derrick Thingvold (6-7, 240) and captain Austin Conery (6-1, 230) at center.

After that, throw in a pair of modest-sized tight ends in Alex Burback (6-0, 195) and Connor Johnston (6-2, 200) and you still have the biggest O-line in the eight lustrums that I’ve followed Ponies football.

During last week’s pounding of Forest Lake, you saw Juniors Oliver O’Keefe (5-9, 215) and Nick Brevitz (6-3, 245) step in and do a commendable job replacing injured starters.

Being on the offense line means that you will spend most of your time bent over and going mano-o-mano with the guy across from you — who finds your mere presence contemptible. That magic yard separating you from the defense is called the pit, trenches, blood alley and many other affectionate names.

Having been a two-way lineman at Petaluma (Calif.) High School and North Dakota State University (the Princeton of the Prairie), I can attest to the hard work required for every first down and touchdown drive you participate in. You are guaranteed contact on every play, but when your Stillwater teammate crosses the alumni stripes for six points you and he both know who made it possible.

Rest assured the girls aren’t focused on you if you have a number in the 50-79 range, but I’ll bet your mother is and I know that every guy who ever played on the line is, including me. Don’t ever forget that SAHS has a rich tradition of being the best at controlling the trenches.

Offensive linemen, like the Maytag repairman, have to be the loneliest people in the world. On any level of competition, you receive the least praise — but who is more essential to a team’s success?

Any back or receiver or quarterback worth his salt knows where his bread is buttered, so don’t let each other down. Football is the ultimate team game.

Here are my 10 Commandments for Offensive Linemen:


1. Think quick because every play is a 100-meter dash.

2. Never let the opponent know that you are tired. This is a quick-tempo game.

3. Your first move is outward, never upward.

4. Remember that every play starts with a snap and ends with a whistle.

5. Never follow a missed block into our backfield.

6. You have someone to block on every play. If you didn’t get a block on the play, then we only had 10 men.

7. Be a heavy hitter. If you’re not going to use your shoulder pads, then take them off because they are slowing you down.

8. Always work upfield by clearing each level as you advance.

9. Get yourself a splatter block on every play.

10. If you can dominate your defender, exploit and don’t play down to his level.


Check these guys out at the next Ponies game, because if they can win the battle in the trenches then victory will be ours!

When watching trench warfare, make sure to check the pad level of the lines (lower is better) and the quickest off the ball will control the outcome of the game. Yes, it’s that simple.

After getting off to a 3-1 start, the Big Red offensive line will have to control the magic yard that separates them from the 4-0 league-leading Mounds View Mustangs.

A victory over Mounds View tomorrow night will return us to the top of the SEC standings where we belong.

I believe that teams either get better or worse and nothing stays the same. The Ponies still have their best games ahead and have terrific support from the student body. We will need all of that to break our five-game losing streak to the Mustangs. I think we are due, 20-14.

The prep football Thole Poll: 1. Eden Prairie (4-0); 2. Wayzata (3-0); 3. Lakeville North (4-0); 4. Mounds View (4-0); 5. Totino-Grace (4-0); 6. Osseo (4-0); 7. Moorhead (4-0); 8. Edina (4-1); 9. St. Thomas Academy (4-0); 10, tie, Apple Valley (3-1) and Hopkins (4-1).

I enjoyed football last week as the Big Red Ponies roughed up the Rangers 48-nada, the Gophers squeezed the Orange 17-10, the Vikings pillaged the 49ers 24-13 and my Bison harvested the Aggies 66-7. Enjoy the fall because it’s going by fast.


In the huddle

The Ponies volleyball team of first-year coach Jamie Suapaia is off to an 9-3 start, led by Bri Horwath, Maddie Brandon, Sophie Vick, Brooke Hunter, juniors Stephanie Dietrich, Susan Evans, Savannah Sprenger and Stephanie Houle. The Ponies return all-conference types Evans, Sprenger and Brandon. They look to be among the favorites with the return of most of last year’s 14-14 outfit. Woodbury knocked the Ponies out of the Section 4AAA tourney last year and should be strong again, along with Derham Hall-Cretin, East Ridge and Mounds View…. Checking out the co-ed volleyball scene, we find Adrianna Nora (6-foot-3) a standout player as a sophomore at Baylor U in Waco, Texas. She made the Big 12 All-Freshman Team for her solid play a year ago. Kate Mikutowski plays for the Blue Devils at UW-Stout in Menomonie and younger sister Mary Mikutowski plays at UM-Crookston. Kayla Zeno plays for Northern Illinois and Kitty Tynen competes for UW-Superior…. Former Ponies grid ace Jake Schmiesing caught two touchdown passes in St. Olaf’s 17-14 victory over Gustavus on Saturday. Schmiesing, who also pitches for the Oles baseball team in the spring, has 11 catches for 95 yards this season…. Don’t tread on me, because I am unable to escape…. Finis


Today’s rumination #585

Let’s be grateful to the mirror for revealing to us our appearance only.

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George Thole retired as head football coach at Stillwater after the 1999 season. He ranks among Minnesota’s top coaches in history with a 285-69-2 record (.805 winning percentage), including four state titles and two state runner-up finishes among 22 championship seasons. He co-authored (with Jerry Foley) “Coaching the Veer Offense,” second edition. His column appears Thursdays in the Gazette. To contact the hall of fame coach e-mail: [email protected]